Donington Park - Preview
25 June 2009
We may have lost Brands Hatch in controversial circumstances, but Donington Park – which hasn't been immune to its fair share of headlines in recent months – remains to host Britain's one and only World Superbike Championship round of 2009.
The long awaited chance for fans to cheer on the slightly reduced number of four full-time British riders (not to mention the three home-grown wild-cards also competing), there is little denying that there is a great chance for a Union Jack to be flying above the podium come Sunday.
Indeed, while Ben Spies, Noriyuki Haga – and occasionally Michel Fabrizio – have monopolised victories so far this season, a maiden win for Jonathan Rea just a week ago at Misano gives renewed hope that he, among others, will be vying for victory around the Derbyshire circuit.
For Rea, the return to Donington Park couldn't come at a better time, the Northern Irishman riding a crest of a wave following a difficult start to his rookie season. Having built up some momentum before breaking his podium duck at Kyalami, Rea and the rapidly improving Ten Kate Honda team have been on the cusp of the Yamaha-Ducati lock-out recently and the latest round should see them progress further.
Beyond this being Rea's home event, Ten Kate Honda have good memories of the circuit from last year when Ryuichi Kiyonari delivered them a fifth win of the season. Their last win until Rea, hopes for victory will be high again, although he faces tough competition from a number of corners.
Indeed, Leon Haslam has been itching to get back on the podium since he last did so at Assen, but a combination of new circuits to learn, technical glitches and his own errors (Kyalami, Miller) have just pushed him back slightly to sixth in the standings. Still, he was almost a podium winner at Donington Park last year as a BSB wild-card and the Stiggy Honda rider has come on leaps and bounds since then…
While Haslam missed out, it was Tom Sykes who instead grabbed all the headlines at Donington Park twelve months ago after very nearly triumphing against Troy Bayliss. In the end, a misinterpreted flag prevented him from doing so, but it didn't matter as his performance was enough to convince Yamaha that he was deserving of a spot at WSBK level. While his form has been consistent, rather than scintillating, so far this season the advantage of prior circuit knowledge should be the impetus Sykes needs to get closer to team-mate Ben Spies.
Shane Byrne, Britain's fourth full-time WSBK representative, meanwhile, returns to familiar ground on a high having stepped onto the podium at Misano. Rain assisted or not, Byrne was on good form throughout the weekend to shine for Sterilgarda Ducati and given his success at Donington Park last year during the BSB, there is no reason to suggest he won't be up there again.
With Haga expecting to find himself up against a British threat this year, a further three riders hailing from these Isles will also be looking to replicate the form of Sykes from last season in the form of Leon Camier, James Ellison and Simon Andrews.
The arrival of Airwaves Yamaha is expected to provide the weekend with an interesting dimension as they assume the role Yamaha's satellite team. With up-and-coming star Camier tipped for big things in the future, this is the ideal opportunity for him to judge himself alongside any potential future rivals while he capitalises on his stunning start to the 2009 British Superbike campaign.
Team-mate Ellison is a stalwart at big events and his fourth place finish with the unfancied Hydrex Honda last season should also ensure that he is a frontrunner this weekend too.
Andrews, meanwhile, makes a welcome – if belated – World Superbike appearance at Donington Park with the ever improving MSS Colchester Kawasaki. Having proven to be a match for the Yamahas, Hondas and Suzukis in BSB on occasion this year, there will be many eyes on Andrews to see if he can cause a bit of embarrassment for the somewhat inconsistent factory Kawasaki outfit…
With the British contingent showing exactly what they were capable of in unfamiliar company last season, it is little surprise that the Donington Park round is being anticipated as one of the toughest rounds to predict this year.
Of the three title challengers, Spies is arguably in a good position to make headway on championship leader Haga. It was at Donington Park that Spies made his MotoGP debut last season, while Yamaha WSB come to the circuit armed with plenty of data from the very cooperative GSE-run Airwaves team.
By contrast, Haga has some indifferent memories of the circuit having failed to finish either race in 2008 (he was disqualified from the second), while Fabrizio hasn't shone on British soil in the past either.
Nonetheless, Haga and title chasers Spies and Fabrizio are expected to be amongst the favourites regardless, even if there are still plenty of other people looking to get in their way.
Key amongst the other challengers is expected to be last year's winner Kiyonari, who showed exactly what he can do around a familiar circuit by claiming a dominant victory in wet conditions. He could have made it a double – to go with his two wins at Brands Hatch – too had he not succumbed in race one. With the Ten Kate Honda on the ascension, Kiyonari could be on hand to spoil many parties come Sunday.
Elsewhere, Max Biaggi and Troy Corser were podium winners at Donington Park 2008, although they face a trial in replicating that form their new Aprilia and BMW teams this year.
Others to look out for include increasingly prominent privateer Jakub Smrz, the man responsible for ending Ben Spies' lengthy run of Superpoles at Misano, as well as Gregorio Lavilla and Yukio Kagayama, both former front runners at BSB level.
In addition, Suzuki Alstare Brux welcome a newcomer to the fold for Donington Park, with AMA Superbike standout Blake Young getting the chance to perform on the world stage for the first time. Tipped to star in the future, Young makes his debut with the backing from none other than Kevin Schwantz…
As well as the septet of British riders in the Superbike class, fans can also enjoy the increasingly exciting title tussle between Cal Crutchlow and Eugene Laverty in the Supersport category. Having come to a head at Misano with a thrilling ride to the finish line, expect a similarly entertaining race at Donington, familiar ground for both.